Two things that happened in 2014 I’m certain I’ll never forget. The first was the birth of my little girl, Layla. The second: the return of LeBron James.
To shed some light for those not familiar with the story, LeBron James, born and raised in nearby Akron, Ohio, is an NBA superstar drafted out of high school in 2003 by his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2010, after a gut-wrenching playoff loss, he shocked the sports world, and the entire state of Ohio, when he announced he was taking his talents to South Beach. At the time, I, like many devoted fans, was devastated. How could he betray “Cavalier Nation” and the town he called home?
He announced his return to “The Land” four years later, and hope was restored again in Northeast Ohio. After all, if anyone was going to deliver a championship to a “cursed” Cleveland, it would be LeBron. My entire family was all in, including our 3-month-old little girl. We didn’t know it at the time, but our world was running parallel with an NBA superstar—one that our little girl latched on to from the start.
Our parallel lives continued into the following year. At the time we were celebrating Layla’s first birthday, we were also celebrating the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first trip to the NBA finals since 2007. Luck wasn’t on our side that year, as two superstars got injured. While the banged up team didn’t win a miracle championship, we learned we were expecting our own little miracle in nine months.
In the spring of 2016, Layla was now 2, a seasoned big sister, and an avid Cavaliers fan. Instead of a baby doll, she received a special “doll.” One modeled after a 6’8” 250 pound professional basketball player. She dubbed her LeBron doll “Bronny,” and brought him everywhere with us: Target runs, gymnastics, even church. He was by her side for every nap, stomach bug, and skinned knee. Wherever Layla was, you would find Bronny.
This doll was just a stepping stone of what was to follow. She soon traded-in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers. She requested Mike & Mike, a sports talk show, each morning so she could see “Bronny” in all the highlights. Her room transformed from princess pink to a mecca of all things LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was perfect timing, the Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals for the second straight year against the Golden State Warriors, and this time they were healthy.
We watched those games together, and through her eyes, LeBron could do no wrong. Cleveland went down 3-1 in a best of 7 series. She didn’t know what I knew: that one more loss would end the series. I was defeated, but as her mother, I couldn’t let that show. I did the most “logical” thing and purchased another doll, hoping to change our luck—this time Cavalier point guard Kyrie Irving. Looking back, it seemed as if this little girl had some Cavalier magic.
We went about our days, as usual, except now Layla toted two dolls around. This may have had nothing or everything to do with what happened next. With breakout games from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers willed themselves back to tie the series 3-3 . No team in the history of the sport had ever made such a comeback and won.
Game 7 of the NBA finals was on Father’s Day in 2016. It was another day I won’t soon forget. Layla was up for the first half of the game. Like every other night, she took Bronny and Kyrie to bed, said a prayer (plus an extra one for the Cavs) and went to sleep peacefully, not knowing the extraordinary was about to happen. A historic finals run ended that night, and the Cleveland Cavaliers were champions when she woke. I shared the news the next day, but she wasn’t surprised. She never doubted LeBron or the Cavaliers; she never lost hope.
We rewatched Game 7 every night for a month straight, per Layla’s request. It never got old. She clapped and cheered night after night, as if it were happening live, watching LeBron in awe. I couldn’t help but feel the same way. She was witnessing history, and we experienced the magic of that moment together. I couldn’t help but think she had something to do with it.
Layla turned 3 this year; LeBron 32. While we don’t know what’s in store this month for either of them, we do know one thing is for certain: tonight kicks off the third straight finals appearance for the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors. It seems fitting we added the third and final “doll” to our family, Kevin Love. He now completes the trio of Layla’s beloved Cavalier family; the “Big Three,” to be exact.
Tonight, I’ll let her stay up past her bedtime to watch her favorite part of the game: the player introductions. She will mouth each player’s name and position word for word as they flash across the television. She will watch their elaborate high-fives, making sure to save her biggest smile for the King (LeBron). With her Bronny doll in hand, she will look at the TV, then back to her doll, and offer up a final piece of advice from her second favorite superhero (PJ Masks): “It’s time to be a hero Bronny!” As he steps onto the court tonight, I have no doubt he will hear her. While the Warriors added superstar Kevin Durant to their team, they’re still no match for Layla and her beloved LeBron James. After all, this bond goes way back to 2014, and it’s one I’ve learned never to doubt!